These days, in our overscheduled, helicopter-ish, tiger-parent world, the idea of a child being bored kind of freaks everyone out. Most kids have no idea what to do with themselves without a scheduled activity, and parents start to feel like they aren’t doing enough to stimulate or entertain their kids if nothing’s planned.
So with school wrapping up (or already out in some places), many parents are understandably scrambling to make sure the endless, open days of summer aren’t filled with their kids’ complaints of “I’M BOOO-OOR-ED!” over and over and over again.
Listen: there is no shame in signing your kids up for camp or other activities, if you can afford them. They can be fantastic experiences for kids, and most working parents need some kind of childcare over the summer.
And yet, there is something to be said for letting your kids experience a bit of unscheduled life during the summer — even some pure and simple boredom. The fact is, during the school year, most of our kids are scheduled to the max. Between school, homework, and extracurricular activities, our kids have little room to breathe, let alone be bored.
Giving your kids a few days or weeks of unstructured life whenever possible is a beautiful thing. And it’s not just so that they can have fun and unwind — though those things are awesome and necessary too. Allowing your kids to be bored is actually really good for them, and will help them grow into more whole, self-reliant adults.
And it’s not just me saying this: parenting experts agree as well.
“Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society,” Lyn Fry, a child psychologist from London, tells Quartz. “Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy. If parents spend all their time filling up their child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do this for themselves.”
BINGO. It’s not like we will always be at our child’s beck and call to make sure they are entertained for the rest of their lives. Learning how to “just be” in the quiet, boring moments of life is a skill that all kids need to learn sooner or later. And unstructured times like summer or schools breaks are perfect opportunities to let your kids hone this skill.
But it’s not just about learning how to pass the time, or fill it with distractions. It’s in those open, unscheduled moments that your kids get to explore what their passions are, outside of school or prescheduled activities. It’s a time for them to use their imaginations, explore their interests, learn new things.
And they can only really do that when you give them the time and space to search within themselves for who they are, what they like, and what they want to explore.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, child psychologist, and author of Discipline Without Damage: How To Get Your Kids To Behave Without Messing Them Up, sums it up perfectly in an article she penned for HuffPost.
“Children need to sit in their own boredom for the world to become quiet enough that they can hear themselves,” says Dr. Lapointe. “It is only when we are surrounded by nothing that something comes alive on the inside.”
Now, I know that all of this is easier said than done. On those unscheduled days this summer where my kids do nothing but complain about being bored, I’m sure I’ll be pulling my hair out wishing I’d scheduled them for an extra week of camp.
But I’ve learned lately that all my kids’ moaning and complaining is actually okay, and sometimes a necessary, but painful step they need to get through. And also that I need to step the hell back, and let it happen, however messy (and loud) it is.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a back-up plan. Fry recommends that you sit down with your kids at the beginning of summer and make a list of all the things that they want to do during their break. Simple activities like riding their bike, running through the sprinklers, etc. Or more elaborate ones, like baking, setting up a lemonade stand, or making slime (you can always secretly delete things off the list if they are as annoying as making slime!).
Then, during those moments during summer that your kids are totally flipping out about how bored they are, you can tell them to go get their summer activity cheat sheet…and problem solved. Plus, the great thing is that these ideas actually originated from your kids, not you, so it zeroes in on their own interests and passions.
“It puts the onus on them to say, ‘This is what I’d like to do’,” Fry tells Quartz, adding, “There’s no problem with being bored. It’s not a sin, is it? I think children need to learn how to be bored in order to motivate themselves to get things done. Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant.”
Amen to that. Our kids may not to be doing much schoolwork this summer, but there are many life lessons available to them. And letting them be bored – and figuring out how to move through that toward independence, self-reliance, and ultimately creativity and self-reflection – is probably the greatest lesson of all.